Native Fall Wildflowers

Native Fall Wildflowers

Each fall, nature puts on a brilliant show of color throughout the United States. As the temperatures drop, autumn encourages the “leaf peepers” to hit the road in search of the red-, yellow- and orange-colored leaves of the northern deciduous trees. In Northwest Florida the color of autumn isn’t just from trees. The reds, purples, yellow and white blooms and berries that appear on

Monarch butterfly on dense blazing star (Liatris spicata var. spicata).
Beverly Turner, Jackson Minnesota, Bugwood.org

many native plants add spectacular color to the landscape. American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, is loaded with royal-colored fruit that will persist all winter long. Whispy pinkish-cream colored seedheads look like mist atop Purple Lovegrass, Eragrostis spectabilis and Muhlygrass, Muhlenbergia capillaris. The Monarchs and other butterfly species flock to the creamy white “fluff” that covers Saltbrush, Baccharis halimifolia. But, yellow is by far the dominant fall flower color. With all the Goldenrod, Solidago spp., Narrowleaf Sunflower, Helianthus angustifolius and Tickseed, Coreopsis spp., the roadsides are golden. When driving the roads it’s nearly impossible to not see the bright yellows in the ditches and along the wood’s edge. Golden Asters (Chrysopsis spp.), Tickseeds (Coreopsis spp.), Silkgrasses (Pityopsis spp.), Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) and Goldenrods (Solidago spp.) are displaying their petals of gold at every turn. These wildflowers are all members of the Aster family, one of the largest plant families in the world. For most, envisioning an Aster means a flower that looks like a daisy. While many are daisy-like in structure, others lack the petals and appear more like cascading sprays. So if you are one of the many “hitting the road in search of fall color”, head to open areas. For wildflowers, that means rural locations with limited homes and businesses. Forested areas and non-grazed pastures typically have showy displays, especially when a spring burn was performed earlier in the year. Peeking out from the woods edge are the small red trumpet-shaped blooms of Red Basil, Calamintha coccinea and tall purple spikes of Gayfeather, Liatris spp.

Visit the Florida Wildflower Foundation website, www.flawildflowers.org/bloom.php, to see both what’s in bloom and the locations of the state’s prime viewing areas. These are all native wildflowers that can be obtained through seed companies. Many are also available as potted plants at the local nurseries. Read the name carefully though. There are cultivated varieties that may appear or perform differently than those that naturally occur in Northwest Florida. For more information on Common Native Wildflowers of North Florida go to http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep061

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Information on gardening practices is freely shared between gardeners and many times the good advice is helpful in plant selection and improving plant growth. There are some passed along practices that are not always suitable for every situation and gardeners may need to investigate a little deeper before implementing the good advice.

Soil test kit available form your local Extension office. Photo: Mary Derrick, UF/IFAS.

Soil test kit available form your local Extension office. Photo: Mary Derrick, UF/IFAS.

One common recommendation from gardeners is to apply Epsom salts to the soil to improve plant growth. Gardeners may have used Epsom salts for various plants in the garden and viewed plants that appear to grow better or have improved leaf color. Therefore a general recommendation to help others who have some general plant problems or off color leaves is to apply Epsom salts.

Before you apply Epsom salts to your garden, understand that it is an inorganic fertilizer, specifically magnesium sulfate. Plants make their own food but they derive most of their nutrients needed for important functions form the soil. Magnesium is one of the nutrients that is essential in photosynthesis. At times, our sandy soils may be lacking in nutrients but there may be plenty of nutrients available for plants.

The recommendation to apply Epsom salts may sound like a good idea but gardeners should always make sure that magnesium is needed before any applications. Too much magnesium in the soil can interfere with the uptake of other nutrients by plants. You could create more of a problem by indiscriminately applying Epsom salts when magnesium is not needed.

As you hear often from the University of Florida Extension, conduct a soil test before applying fertilizer to determine the major nutrient levels available in your soil. This $7.00 test will help you better manage plant nutrition. If you need assistance interpreting soil test results, contact your local county Extension office.